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Horse training one-step-at-a-time

Hi Franklin,

I've been working with one horse lately. She's 2-years old and has never really been worked with before. She is OK with having a lead rope on in her stall but when we get out of her stall, she starts to freak a little. She is pushy, so I have to be stern, but I am also very forgiving with her and will give her praise. I think that she may be scared by the noise of the lead rope’s clasp and the metal on her halter. I was wondering if you had any tips or tricks to try and use to get her most used to the lead, and maybe some tips to help her calm down when I'm walking her. If you could get back to me that would be great!

Thank You!

Hi There,

This is a very young horse and it would be easy to go off on the ‘wrong foot’ with her. You want to develop trust as opposed to being a stern boss. Rewarding effort is more than praise, it is total release of pressure (any energy put towards the horse including, touching, looking at, talking to, etc.). Total peace means just that, no input of any energy. You can still see what the horse is doing from the corner for your eye. In the stall simply rub her down gently all over with the rope. Put it over her neck, you back away in a small circle and ask her to make small circles towards you in the stall with the rope around her neck (no halter). A couple of circles in both directions asked for gently and provided by quiet effort by the horse, with frequent stops (raise your hand, whoa and stop movement) . Then remove the rope and stand there for a minute or two quietly ignoring the horse (reward). End the session. Repeat this a few times in the stall. Always end any sessions on a positive note. She will take on your energy. So, bring her your own inner peace, calm and confidence when with your horse. Always breath consciously and easily when with horses.

Next, in the stall, rub her all over with the halter and lead making sure she is gently touched by the metal snap. Be thoughtful and gentle always along with being confident and certain of what you are doing. Put it on her and ask for some small circles again in the stall, by backing away in a small circle and asking her to come to you. Ask for specific and clear stops by raising your hand accompanied by a whoa. Have the snap make some noise while doing the circles.

Stop often when going around and reward. Not too much noise, but audible, not hiding it, and only make one revolution in each direction and then total release of any input (no pressure). Do this in both directions. Ask her to back up a step and come forward a step and then immediate reward. Repeat this a bunch of times. Next open the stall door and ask her to take one step out and then back up one step in. Do this a few times with reward before existing the stall. Next go a few yards quietly, then whoa, then back two steps, then forward two steps and reward. Repeat. Always set a boundary for your personal space. Begin to do this in the stall by asking the horse to back up a step or two and keep it there and reward. If the horse pushes into your space, back her up 5-6 steps firmly but gently and reward.

YOU MUST KEEP THE BOUNDARY CONSISTENTLY, FIRMLY BUT GENTLY AND ALWAYS WHEN YOU ARE WITH YOUR HORSE. This develops trust and respect for you as her good leader. It also shows you have respect for the horse.

Only be as assertive as you need to get some effort. Make certain you know enough about how to ask for these movements that you absolutely will not confuse the horse. If you confuse the horse at all you will produce fear. Do not be so energetic or assertive that any anxiety is produced which will promote fear. Also, you might prompt the mare to start to nip which you obviously do not want. If you know how to do it, ask her to lower her head both in the stall and when you are out of the stall. You do not pull the head down/ Simply look down, bend down and put a little weight on the rope, holding it about a foot below the halter. Immediately release the rope when you feel the head drop even a centimeter. A horse with a low head receives an endorphin rush and tends to settle down. Try using a rope halter as well. I use a lead without a snap because I use the rope to communicate through. Thus, I do not want to take a chance on hitting the horse with the snap if I snake the rope under her chin. Remember less is more with horses. Ask for small things quietly and gently and reward and eventually they will join to become big things the horse can and will do for you willingly. Do not discipline the horse. Consider always being the good leader/teacher/parent/guide and the sanctuary of peace for the horse. This way you will have a willing partner. If you attain a high level of trust with this horse, it will totally respect you and try everything you request of her when requested appropriately.

Basically I am suggesting a one-step-at-a-time/reward approach to training this horse. Make the sessions only 15-20 minutes and end on a great and positive note. Do several (3-4) short sessions per day. You will find that fairly soon the horse will really look forward to seeing you and begin to show great interest in being with you and what you are attempting to teach her. She will learn fast this way. really need to know what you are doing and how to ask for it. If something is not working, do not continue to ask for it, go back to something that the horse can easily do and get the reward. Once the trust is re-established, then you can try what you were going for before, but probably you need to change something to make it easier and more clear for the horse. You need to re-establish your connection each time you go to your horse as each time is new. Be thoughtful and always kind. Be precise and clear. Remember anything that does not support feelings of safety and trust, provide feelings of doubt and fear. Let feelings to safety and trust be your big agenda beyond anything else. You can make mistakes, but if the horse continues to feel safe, you will be forgiven immediately if you keep the trust. Good Luck and please keep me posted.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

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